REDLANDS, CA - Forty-one year old Stella Whitaker was 8-years-old when she celebrated her first Kwanzaa. So when Dec. 26 comes every year, she is ready and excited.
“We, as adults, are like a kid in a candy store. I think that our reaction has made us feel like we have a new life and purpose. It has at least given us an explanation of what has happened to our past ancestors, what their contributions have been and how they affect our family as we are today.”
The days leading up to Kwanzaa, Whitaker travels around the Inland Empire helping to teach children about the history and traditions associated wi th the seven-day Kwanzaa holiday.
The "first fruits" holiday dates back to ancient Egypt and Nubia, the celebration known today as Kwanzaa was first constituted in 1966, in the midst of the Civil rights Movement, by Dr. Maulana Karenga,” she explains to a small group of children.
“Ka wan – za” she says loudly. “Let’s recite it together – K a wan - za” “I get it,” said seven year old Vida Perry of Redlands holding up a red candle.
Kwanzaa is an ancient and living cultural tradition, which reflects the best of African thought and practice in its reassertion of the self-respect of the human person in their community and culture, the well-being of family and community, the integrity of the surroundings and kinship with it and the rich resource and meaning of the African culture.
One of the most exciting parts of this celebration is spent teaching children about their heritage, says Whitaker. The children may show their artwork or find other ways to pay homage to their past as well as their present.
A table set up with an ear of corn symbolizing each of the children, and a decorated unity cup, which is used for the toasts made each night of Kwanzaa, said Whitaker “We start our celebration by getting the candles for the Kinara, which is a seven-branched candelabra that is lit during this week.
The youngest person in our family is always excited because they are given the responsibility of lighting the candles. We do this so that they can have the experience of carrying out this lovely tradition that we have started. The candles are placed in a special order. The black one being in the center and three red on the left side and the three green on the right side. Each day a candle is lit and represents one of the seven principles.”
Since we started celebrating Kwanzaa, we have had more children participate every year. On the first night we start out with a large family dinner. The dinner is prepared by me and four other relatives. We have a traditional African American dinner that consists of a turkey, ham, collard greens, candied yams, corn, cornbread dressing and desserts.
The family gathers for seven nights to light the seven holed candleholder or Kinara. The first night the children are asked to light the central candle, which is black. It symbolizes unity. The second night the red candle is lit, it symbolizes self-determination and it goes on like this for the next five days. Along with lighting the candles, they also drink from the unity cup filled with libation. Kwanzaa ends on Jan. 1. This is known as the day of meditation.
Three traditional questions asked after the Kwanzaa celebration are: ‘Who am I?; Am I really who I say I am?; and Am I who I ought to be?’
The doctrine of Kwanzaa is guided by seven guiding principle: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
Whitaker says the celebrated tradition has brought her family closer.
“It has allowed us to learn about our African culture and has given meaning to who we are as people. We have learned about the struggles that brought us to the point in life that we are today. As a family we are so thankful that we have incorporated and took time to learn about Kwanzaa.”
Whitaker explains Kwanzaa is a chance to have something that is “just ours”.
“We welcome others but this is the annual, all black people meeting to refocus and reenergize the troops. We use it to learn about how to come together and unite, we displayed future generations, their gifts and talents and welcome them into the community and lift them up! We also celebrate and honor our elders and their accomplishments. We use these seven days to sit and talk and prepare for the journey ahead, reaffirm, recommit, revitalize."
“Our task as we grow older in a rapidly advancing society is to retain the capacity of joy in discoveries which correct older ideas, and to learn from our children as we teach them.”